A young child sits in his father’s lap and watches a juggler perform tricks. The father glances over at a sculpture swarmed by a dozen laughing children; one of them is his daughter. Beyond the makeshift playground, a group of friends spread a blanket under a tree and open a picnic basket while an older couple parks their bicycles near the pond and shields their eyes to take in the active scene.
All of these people are enjoying a public space, but it’s more than that. This is a community place. A place where people feel welcome, connected, healthy and engaged.
The concept of place is seeing renewed emphasis, especially with the release of an MIT white paper Places in the Making: How placemaking builds places and communities, that highlights the benefits of well planned public spaces. While some of the spaces they studied took years and a lot of funds to develop, there are four small things you can do now to bring a great community space to your area.
Engage the Community
“When the people who use a space are left out of the process of its shaping, everyone suffers.”—Project for Public Spaces Blog
First and foremost is that for the community to use a space, it has to be what the community wants it to be. Look for like-minded people to help you in your work to engage the entire neighborhood or district. Good models for public engagement about space exist at D.I.Y Creative Placemaking and the Institute for Local Government. Reach out to non-traditional partners such as refugee assistance organizations, childcare centers, and local musicians or theatre groups.
Revitalize a Current Space
There are likely some seldom used public spaces in your community that just need rejuvenation. Choose one or two locations to focus on. Success breeds more success, and once the public sees how beneficial a well planned public space can be, they’ll be clamoring for more.
A longterm approach is to look at abandoned sites, like brownfields or vacant lots, that can be repurposed as community gathering spots. These take time, but the resulting community pride can trigger other waves of change.
Think in “The Power of 10”
While a juggler may fascinate one child, another prefers to climb. Some people enjoy a place to interact with others, while others like secluded areas to sit and think. No one element of a community space, or even one lone community space, is going to appeal to everyone. The Project for Public Spaces calls this The Power of 10 and offers it as a framework for planners to strive for.
Let People Know the Community Place Exists
One of the reasons cited for the successful rejuvenation of Bryant Park in NYC is the introduction of regularly scheduled events. Once people visit a site and enjoy its amenities, they’re likely to come back, especially if they know there’s always something to do.
This is where engaging performers, game enthusiasts, and artists in the planning stages can benefit your project. Providing amenities that are inviting to them will keep the space active and welcoming.